Rose Bowl Management Committee memo asked for 'Most Favored Nation position' in expanded playoff

'Failure to achieve such a ... contract status leaves the Rose Bowl Game and its relationships and legacy to the whims of others who have no fiduciary or other allegiances to the Rose Bowl Game.'

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In early April, Laura Farber, the immediate past president of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association and the chair of the Rose Bowl Management Committee, sent Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren and then-Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott a memo, which was obtained by Out of Bounds and which had the stated purpose “to share … the following objectives and suggestions for possible pathways to achieve these objectives in the event the commissioners and university presidents decide to ‘test the market’ for either an 8 or 12 team post season model.”

The College Football Playoff management committee met later that month.

A brief outline of the Rose Bowl Management Committee’s objectives are as follows, according to the memo:

1) Development of an independent media contract with the Rose Bowl Game, its partner conferences, and a telecast entity for an annual quarterfinal game;

2) Preferred access for the Rose Bowl Game on an equal rotating basis to a Pac 12 or Big Ten team available for that round of competition;

3) A Most Favored Nation position among bowls and other venues for hosting CFP Semi-Final and Championship games; and

4) The proposed quarter final Rose Bowl game shall occur on January 1 annually in its historic telecast window (approximately 5 p.m. Eastern time) following the Rose Parade.

A copy of the memo is available at the bottom of the newsletter.

Last week’s newsletter addressed how American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco wrote to the presidents and athletic directors in the conference, “There was an expectation that consensus on an expansion plan might be reached [at the College Football Playoff management committee meetings in June], but that was not the case,” and that newsletter also referenced how consensus on CFP expansion could now be even harder to reach, in light of the SEC’s own expansion.

The Rose Bowl – and its stated objectives of an independent media contract, “a Most Favored Nation position among bowls” and its requested time slot at 5 p.m. ET on Jan. 1 – could be another hurdle on the way to reaching a consensus on playoff expansion.

Given how the organizers of the Rose Bowl Game view the game – “From its inception, the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl Game developed a global reach and an iconic status similar to the Masters, Wimbledon, the Super Bowl and the Final Four,” Farber wrote in the memo – it remains to be seen what concessions the Rose Bowl Management Committee and Tournament of Roses Association would be willing to make, if any.

If none, what would happen next? And would the Big Ten and Pac-12 follow suit?

In a statement provided to Out of Bounds by a spokesperson, the Pasadena Tournament of Roses said:

The proposal presented by the College Football Playoff Working Group is the first step of many in the possible expansion of the college football postseason. The Rose Bowl Game is an important part of the history of college football, and we will continue to work closely with the College Football Playoff to determine how the tradition of the Rose Bowl Game will be a part of the evolving playoff system.

Through a spokesperson, the Pac-12 declined to comment.

“At this time the summer assessment period is continuing—the management committee members are gathering comments from their schools’ presidents, athletics directors, coaches, faculty and student-athletes,” a CFP spokesperson said in an email. “They are scheduled to meet again on Sept. 28 to discuss that feedback and next steps in the process.”

“Since the inception of the BCS and through the establishment of the CFP, the conferences and the Rose Bowl Game have enjoyed a direct contractual relationship with the telecaster of the BCS and CFP series,” Farber wrote in the memo. “In fact, we believe that this direct contractual relationship is the key to securing the brand elements contained in the above mentioned 4 objectives. At the appropriate time, it is our recommendation and intention to pursue discussion with ESPN under the right of first refusal clause contained in the existing contract.

“Relative to the other contract bowls and their associated conference partners (Sugar with the SEC and Big 12, Orange with the ACC and SEC/Big Ten, respectively) we believe these conferences and associated bowls can also successfully pursue quarterfinal positions and preferred conference affiliations similar to what exists in the present structure.”

Farber pointed to the “historic bowls located in great American destinations with strong connections to the college game,” referencing Pasadena, Miami, New Orleans and Dallas, and she wrote, “any enlarged system should take notice of these desirable venues (including ticketing, attendance and other related issues) and from the outset, as a matter of policy, reach back to collegiate Bowl history for playing venues (quarter finals, semi-finals and champ game) as a more NFL style expanded playoff is adopted to broaden the base of participation.

“Failure to achieve such a venue policy and independent contract status leaves the Rose Bowl Game and it’s (sic) relationships and legacy to the whims of others who have no fiduciary or other allegiances to the Rose Bowl Game.”

Was the Rose Bowl Management Committee tipped off about playoff expansion proposals or was it a coincidence the memo referenced a 12-team playoff?

Twice in Farber’s memo, she referenced “an 8 or 12 team” playoff. Seventeen days after she sent the memo, a CFP press release announced that “the committee received a briefing from a working group of four of its members charged with considering options for the future format of the playoff for the management committee's review,” which included six, eight, 10, 12 and 16-team playoff models.

That sentence was buried 17 paragraphs into a CFP press release – perhaps intentionally – sparking the larger, ongoing conversation about playoff expansion.

I found it interesting that Farber’s memo specifically mentioned the possibility of an eight or 12-team playoff, but not one that would potentially invite six, 10 or 16 teams. A 12-team model was formally presented a month and a half later.

Neither the Big Ten nor the Pac-12 had a representative on the four-person working group that was tasked with creating the proposals for potential playoff expansion, so was the Rose Bowl Management Committee making an informed reference to, or an educated guess about potential expansion to an eight or 12-team playoff?

Or was it just a coincidence?

‘Any enlarged system should…reach back to collegiate Bowl history…as a more NFL style expanded playoff is adopted’

As playoff expansion and conference realignment have collided over the past several months, the future of college football has been compared to the NFL – just as Farber did in her memo – and any mention of the NFL in the restructuring of college football might be treated as persona non grata for diehard college football fans.

But in a few, very specific ways, perhaps the fan experience and the TV product that is college football could improve if it followed the NFL’s lead. This was something I talked about with Galen Clavio last month on an episode of the CrimsonCast podcast (starting around the 44:20 mark).

NFL-style scheduling within conferences could prevent matchup droughts like Indiana not playing on the road at Nebraska until 2019 even though the Huskers joined the conference in 2011, and it could prevent a scheduling quirk such as Georgia and Texas A&M not facing each other, period, until 2019, despite the Aggies joining the SEC in 2012.

There’s no perfect parallel to the NFL but it wouldn’t make much sense if the Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots shared a conference but only played each other once every eight years, now would it?

If the SEC ditches its divisions once it reaches 16 members, while still protecting annual rivalries, that could be seen as an improvement.

Given the subjective nature of the College Football Playoff selection committee, the CFP will never mirror the NFL playoffs, but an expanded playoff could provide greater transparency and clarity in regards to how some teams are seeded and who receives a first-round bye, which would be more similar to the NFL playoffs compared to the current, four-team CFP model.

And if multiple Power 5 conferences, let alone all of them, ever pooled together their TV rights and took them to market, they could benefit in ways like the NFL does in a very basic sense of supply and demand. If that were to happen, the acronym “NFL” may not feel like such a dirty word to many of those who prefer the college game.

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The Rose Bowl Management Committee’s memo to the Big Ten and Pac-12

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In case you missed the last newsletter

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“Last month, University of Texas Executive Sr. Associate AD/Chief of Staff Christine Plonsky wrote to Texas Director of Athletics Chris Del Conte and women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer, ‘Sounds like SEC is wanting to eliminate future Big 12-SEC wbb challenges and instead create one with ACC. Marginalization.’”

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